Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Anxiously Awaiting My New Viking Head

I am due to get a new head on Thursday. Well, maybe not the entire head - but a very important part of it because I am due to have my cochlear implant speech processor upgraded.  This will be the third upgrade in the almost twenty years I have enjoyed the extraordinary benefits of being able to hear again. The implant works by linking an external sound processor, which converts sounds into electrical impulses, to an internal receiver which conducts the impulses to the auditory nerve in the cochlear: together, by some miraculous process, these produce the sensation of sound. You will be pleased to know (well, at least I am pleased to know) that it is merely the external bits which are to be replaced - they will not go digging around inside my head on this occasion.

The new processor has two major advantages over the one I have had for the last six years. First, it is smaller, and will hopefully just snap snuggly against my skull. My current processor hangs behind my ear and is attached by a cable to the transmitter on my skull. This may sound cumbersome but that was a massive advantage over Mark 1, which was attached to my belt and connected by wires all over the place! As my ears don't work at all, there is no need for the processor to hang around with them, in the past my ear has been nothing more than a convenient hook to hang the equipment from.

The second advantage is that the new system should be bluetooth enabled, so it should mean the end of wires altogether. I should be able to get a bluetooth signal direct from my iPhone straight to my brain. I know that this might sound like hell warmed up to people who crave blissful silence, but to them I would suggest trying to manage without any sound other than the tinnitus squeaking of their own brain for a month or two, and I am sure that they would be happy to have Paul Simon's Greatest Hits transmitted straight to their subconscious. Bluetooth was famously named after Harald Bluetooth, the tenth century King of Denmark, so as of Thursday I will be wandering around with a bit of Viking in my head.

As anyone who has upgraded a computer will know, such things rarely go smoothly. New systems take time to get used to. New technologies often, at first, seem inferior to what is old and familiar. I am, however, looking forward to my new Viking head, and I am sure that I will get used to it within a day or two, and - before you know it - I will be leading a raiding party to pillage the Northumberland coastline. I will report back on progress.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Sepia Saturday 356 : Painting The Town Stone Yellow

Our Sepia Saturday prompt this week features a 1945 photograph of a painting class in Sarasota, Florida.  My own photograph is one I took in, I think, the early 1970s in my brothers' studio in, as far as I can recall, Ireland. 

(Computer manufacturers should manufacture a special keyboard for older users which had special F Keys permanently linked to phrases such as "I seem to remember", "to the best of my recollection", and "I decided to go to bed early last night").

Over the years my brother Roger has had studios all over the world (his current studio is on the island of Dominica), but other than the work in progress, some things rarely change.

(I suspect that if you walked into his studio today you would find the same functional tables, and, as likely as not, the same typewriter pounding out letters to the editor of whichever newspaper who lives within the boundaries of).

Whilst the studio setting might remain the same, the style of the output has undergone changes over the years. You can get a flavour of his current style by visiting his BLOG which regularly features his work in progress. As an example of his approach, here is a painting he did twenty or more years ago of our home town, Halifax. Whilst his current work captures the vibrancy and colour of the Caribbean, his paintings of the West Riding equally reflect the warmth and elegant pride of industrial Yorkshire.

To see what others are doing with our Sepia Saturday theme this week, go to the SEPIA SATURDAY BLOG and follow the links.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Henry Bown - Artist And Photographer

This is a small collection of three Victorian carte de visites all of which come from the London studios of the photographer Henry Bown. It appears that Henry started his working life as a picture framer, but turned to photography during the great studio photography boom of the 1870s. Like so many of his contemporaries, he described himself as an "artist and photographer", and by the turn of the century he had expanded his business to three studios in south London - in the New Kent Road and Jamaica Road and Spa Road in Bermondsey. Following the First World War, the business was taken over by his son, Charles, and Henry eventually died in 1921 at the age of 79.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Vulgar Abuse Of Mr Trump

I watched the press conference given by President Trump last night with interest: in particular his attack on fake news and the negative reporting he has been subject to by the world press. I never thought I might be capable of feeling sympathy for the man, but there would appear to be a thread of truth in his charges and such negative reporting of him seems to have been going on for longer than even he imagines. I came across this paragraph whilst browsing through a copy of the Western Times for Tuesday 22nd July 1884:-

I am happy to submit this example to Mr Trump and his team in order to fortify his growing bank of evidence against the dangers of a free press.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Delicate Wife Of Wentworth Woodhouse

This interesting Edwardian Cabinet Card photo was part of an album of old photographs I bought from an antique shop a few years ago and which I have only recently started investigating in detail. The photographer is "G H King of Wentworth, Near Rotherham" (there are no studio details on the reverse of the card), but I have not been able to find any record of a professional photographer of that name and location from the time the photograph must have been taken. There is, however, evidence of a certain George Henry King who was born in Conisbrough - a couple of miles up the road from Wentworth - and who, in the first two decades of the twentieth century, lived in Barrowfield Gate in Wentworth. I know Wentworth quite well and it is a small village, so the chances are that this is the same person.

In both the 1901 and the 1911 census, George Henry is listed as being employed as a "carter in gardens". Wentworth is particularly notable for being the location of Wentworth Woodhouse, the massive country home of the Wentworth family and famous for being the largest private home in Britain (The full and fascinating story of the house and the people who lived in it can be found in the book "Black Diamonds" by Catherine Bailey). I suspect that we are safe in assuming that G H King worked in the gardens of Wentworth Woodhouse and also was a keen amateur photographer. The fact that the photograph was taken by an amateur is consistent with it being taken out of doors rather than in a studio setting. Enterprising amateurs would have cards pre-printed with their names onto which they could stick paper photographs, thus producing the Cabinet Card format that was popular at the time.

So who is the woman? The census records show that George was married to Laura Louisa King who was born in Occold, Suffolk in 1875. The fact that she found herself living so far away from home makes me suspect that she may have worked in some capacity in the great house at some stage, and that the photograph of her was taken by her husband in the grounds. The only other reference to G H King I have been able to find is this advert from the Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury of the 23rd August 1907.

Could this then be a photograph of Laura Louisa King, the delicate wife of Wentworth Woodhouse? Who knows - much of this tale is based upon guesswork and casual assumptions. If it is, however, we can take pleasure in noting that whilst George died in 1934, his delicate wife soldiered on - bringing up five children - until she died at the age of 76 in 1951.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Stoneground On Aire

These two photographs result from a walk down Bridge Street, Lock Lane and Barnsdale Road in Castleford, West Yorkshire. When that walk took place, I do not know (but, I would guess, some time in the 1950s). Neither do I know who was doing the walking : the two negatives which form the basis of these scans were acquired from a job-lot in a junk shop.

The real clue as to the location is Allinson's Wholewheat Flour Mill which can be clearly seen in the first photograph. The mill is still there today - although now it is called Allinson's Stoneground Flour Mill. Just up the road from the mill - which stands on the side of the River Aire - is the Aire and Calder Navigation and a lock that looks exactly the same as the one in the second photograph.

A combination of powerful scanning and Google searching means that you can retrace the steps someone took more than half a century ago. And you can see history on the move.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Sepia Saturday 354 : The Curious Expedition Of John Gonato To Cleethorpes

The wonderful thing about Sepia Saturday theme images is that, with a little bit of creative licence, it is possible to link them to almost any photograph that happens to appear on the top of your "scan and sort" pile. Today it happens to be a photograph of my mother taken, I suspect, in the early 1930s. At the time, her coastal destination of choice was the North Lincolnshire resort of  Cleethorpes - she met my father there at about this time although they both lived just a few miles from each other in Bradford.  In this photograph she looks relaxed, happy and, I have to say, quite lovely.

And the connection to the theme image? Well clearly we have a nautical theme in both images. The theme image is entitled "Assistant Niki Vasilikis in John Gonato's Curio Shop In Tarpon Springs, Florida"; and the shop clearly has a wonderful display of shells and sea creatures of all kinds. John Gonatos was absent from the theme photograph - he was no doubt out on a field trip collecting more shells and pebbles. Now look closely at the photograph of my mother - in the background on the right walking along the sands at Cleethorpes. Yes, it is none other that Mr Gonato combing the beach in an effort to restock his curio shop. Now there's coincidence for you!

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Exploring The Left Nostril Of An Elderly Victorian Gent

I was scanning an old Carte de Visite yesterday - a small photograph of some unknown Victorian gentleman with a beard that was far too large, and oddly misshaped. When I imported the scan into Photoshop, it applied, by default, some filter that I had been playing with the last time I used the programme. I was so taken with the result I immediately got rid of the original accurate scan and replaced it by the one with the wonderfully grainy effect. As I magnified the image more and more I became even more fascinated with the effect.

The possibilities, of course, are endless. I could move further and further in, and get more and more of that wonderfully worm-like grain. Excuse me whilst I explore the left nostril of this elderly Victorian gent.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

My Name Is Alan And I Am A Collector

My name is Alan and I am a collector. 

I collect anything. I collect books, old photographs, glass plate negatives, musty magazines, jam jars, old coins, beer mats and bus tickets. I collect things other people can't be bothered collecting. I collect things no sane human being would be interested in collecting. I collect collections.

For reasons I can't explain - indeed in the cold light of reason I can't even understand myself - I recently bought a series of clippings from movies. These are little strips of 35mm film that are only five frames in length and can be of no conceivable use to any mortal being. I came across them on eBay, being sold by a chap in Germany. Nobody seemed interested in buying any, which is of no surprise at all. Nobody could think of a use for them. Nobody in their right mind could collect such things.

Which is why I bought them. I have a collection of things that nobody else collects. The wonderful thing about the internet, however, is that it instantly puts you in touch with people from all over the world who may just, by chance, share whatever strange compulsion keeps you going each day.

Thus if there is anyone out there who, by chance, is a collector of pictures of tattooed ladies standing in butchers shops would they please get in touch with me. I have something they may well be interested in. My name is Alan and I am a collector.

Monday, February 06, 2017

On The Street Where I Live

Browsing through the on-line Kirklees Image Archive, I came across a photograph of Bradford Road in Fixby, taken at some indeterminate date in the past. On closer inspection I realised that it was a photograph of the bottom of our road, and it must have been taken in the late 1930s when the houses were first constructed. I took a photograph from approximately the same position in order to better examine the kind of changes that have taken place over an eighty year period. As you can see, the road has doubled in width and the street lights have proportionately increased in ugliness.  But, as is so often the case, the most visible difference is the increase in the amount of vegetation. We tend to forget that the smoke and pollution belching out of the mills and factories of Britain not only consigned many workers to an early grave, but also stunted the growth of trees and bushes. There are things to be said for living in a post-industrial age after all.

And staying with the theme of the street where I live, the street light directly opposite our house stopped working the other day. Within minutes I was able to go on-line to the Kirklees local government website, identify the street light in question on an interactive map, and click a couple of buttons to indicate that it was no longer working. This morning, a chap came with a van and a ladder and mended it. Now that is what I call service. Local government is having its funding severely restricted by a Government that seems to think that every possible service should be privatised for profit, and yet it continues to provide an excellent service and great value for money. There are things to be said for living in a society where community service means more than commercial exploitation after all.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Sepia Saturday 353 : A Wedding In St Louis

I've always been drawn to arches : give me even a hint of a railway arch, a tunnel or an arched entrance and I will grab my camera and start messing around with shadows and light. No doubt Sigmund Freud could have based a series of lectures on my proclivity for such structures - but let us not progress any further down that decidedly murky footpath. Steps are another of my passions (make of that what you will Siggy!): I like the way light plays on steps - drawing parallel lines and changing black to white. If you therefore provide me with a Sepia Saturday theme image that brings together an arch and a set of steps, I am a happy man. Here are just three examples from my collection.

My first example has caused me considerable heartache because I can't remember whether I have ever featured this photograph before on any of my blogs. Why can't someone develop a half-decent search engine for images that could help old fools like me discover whether I have posted an old image before? I fed the above picture into Google's Image Search - "the most comprehensive image search on the web" - and it tried to persuade me it was the Gateway Arch in St Louis. I find it difficult to imagine anything less like the Gateway Arch in St Louis. It is, in fact, a photograph of the entrance arch to Cardiff Castle in Wales and that is my Uncle Frank's mother and sister doing their best to smile for the camera (the one looking happy to be in such a party is, in fact, the sainted Auntie Miriam). The photograph must have been taken by Uncle Frank in the mid 1930s.

My second photograph is only mildly sepia and dates from the early 1980s. I seem to remember taking it down a back street in Lincoln - although when I did a Google Image Search for it, I was informed that it was most likely a picture of a couple celebrating their wedding at the Burford Bridge Hotel in Surrey!

I am particularly proud of my third image which manages to combine both an arch and a set of steps and throws in a dustbin for good measure. I took this photograph inside a block of old tenements in Sheffield some thirty-five years ago. I couldn't resist, of course, submitting this image to Google's Image Search and it actually came up with a definite hit - I have seemingly used this picture before in a Picture Post blogpost back in 2012. To all those readers with a better memory than I, I apologise for using it again.

To see more arches and more steps, go to Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Rich Man Seeks Companion To Drink Fine Port And Travel To Nigeria

OK, let me try this one out on you. I am an enormously rich but lonely chap and I am looking for a companion to share my easy path through life, to exchange wry anecdotes whilst smoking Havana cigars and sipping vintage port, and to see the world from the balconies of fine Edwardian hotels. However, I have had a bad experience in the past - a companion who promised to be a faithful acolyte immediately ran off with Auntie Florrie's pearl and diamond necklace. Thus, in order to act as a guarantee of fidelity, I would require the successful applicant to deposit a sum of £5,000 with me in cash. In return, I promise to change my will in favour of my new companion. Please send the cash in advance to my address.

If this smells a teeny-weeny little bit fishy, then you are wrong. It's more than a teeny-weeny bit; it's about as fishy as a Grimsby trawler on a wet Tuesday afternoon off Dogger Bank. No doubt you will file my advert away in that bulging file entitled "Scammers", along with the request from the widow of the Chief Clerk of that Nigerian Bank and the intimate plea from that young lady in the Ukraine who has fallen on difficult times. You will shake your head and say that the curse of the modern age is work-shy criminals trying to take advantage of hard-working folk like you or me.

Earlier this week I was in the local library searching through old record books to try and discover how old my local pub is. Before too long I fell victim to that curse which afflicts all serious researchers seeking to unfold the borders of knowledge: I got sidetracked. I came across a press cutting from 115 years ago concerning a local "cause celebre" - the Lancaster case.

A certain William Thomas Lancaster placed an advert in The Times asking for a companion to share his life of luxury. Having received a response from a certain Henry Kremnitz of Leeds, Lancaster had some posh headed notepaper printed with "Firthus, Brighouse" and wrote back asking for the sum of £5,000 as a guarantee of fidelity. As it turned out, Lancaster was a poverty-stricken con-man living in a back room of this fathers' cottage - Firth House which is just a few hundred yards from where I now live. He eventually met up with Kreminitz and spun some fabulous tale of houses in Birmingham and a considerable fortune just waiting to be spent. Young Mr Kremnitz must have eventually sniffed a wet fish and informed the local constabulary. William Thomas Lancaster found himself up in front of the judge at Leeds Assizes on a charge of attempting to gain money by false pretenses and was sent down for eighteen months with hard labour.

Having read the story, I couldn't help but have a sneaking respect for the dramatic skills of William Thomas Lancaster and I hoped that his term inside taught him a harsh lesson, and that he went on to live a useful and fulfilled life.  Later I did a quick check through the National Newspaper Archives to see if anything further could be discovered about him. And there he was again  .... and again  .... and again. In Bradford in 1904 for trying out the same trick (another eighteen months inside); and in Oldham in 1906 (where he did managed to actually con some money from someone and for which he got a longer spell inside). The last time he crops up is in 1914 when he was part of a large scam to acquire property for a fake charity called "The First Land Settlement Of The New Order". 

He was never actually caught for this last scam (although his co-conspirators were all sent down). Perhaps he fled the country. I like to think he made it to Nigeria where he became the Chief Clerk to a Nigerian Bank.

Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...